I have a bit of a confession to make: I’d sort of fallen off of Gerry Duggan’s X-Men a while ago. Marauders was initially one of my favorite titles of the early Krakoan Era (I’m a big Kate Pryde fan), but I lost interest around the time the book started trying to make one of the Hellfire brats from Jason Aaron’s Wolverine and the X-Men sympathetic. But that wasn’t the exact reason I stopped following the title. See, I didn’t even actively dislike Marauders, I just thought that it had become overwhelmingly… “okay” compared to the other X-books that were coming out, and “okay” doesn’t always cut it when better comics are coming out and you have a limited amount of disposable income.
That’s why I was hesitant to check out the flagship title when Duggan took over after Jonathan Hickman’s departure. The art was gorgeous (Pepe Larraz’s cover for Issue #2 is still my phone’s background), but even with the beautiful imagery, the stories within the flagship title were, once again, “just okay”. These were perfectly serviceable X-Men plots, but when you held them up to what Hickman had done and what writers like Al Ewing and Vita Ayala were doing, it just didn’t seem like it was worth the time and money. Nevertheless, I followed the initial Duggan X-Men issues as they hit Marvel Unlimited, but I wasn’t sold enough to continue after the second Hellfire Gala. I loosely followed what was happening with Talon and Synch and Spider-Man’s “Amazing Friends” through the other X-books and Twitter, but to me, the mainline, adjectiveless X-Men title had lost all of its steam.
Then the third Hellfire Gala flipped everything upside down. I feel like the beginning of the “Fall of X” could’ve been handled better (Zero explains it better than I could in their review of the one-shot), and I wasn’t eager to return to the misery of pre-Krakoan status quo, but as the dust settled in X-Men #25, I realized something:
This is kind of kickass.
X-Men #25 is a very Kate Pryde-centric issue, and honestly it feels like Duggan has been waiting to put the spotlight back on her since he left Marauders. It just feels like there’s a lot more direction to this issue than Duggan’s previous X-Men issues (at least, the ones I’ve read). Kate has a clear trajectory as she phases headfirst into her anti-hero era as “Shadowkat” (now with a “K”). She’s been having a crisis of faith for a while now, and the latest “Mutant Massacre” has simply served as the last straw.
The issue takes us all the way back to the beginning of that crisis: right after Kate walked headfirst into a Krakoan gate in Marauders #1 and learned that she couldn’t go through them. In a conversation with her Rabbi, we learn that Kate has concerns that she might not actually be a mutant, which is a possibility that seems even more likely after Orchis recently disabled the Krakoan gates for mutants… and now Kate can finally use them. It seems as though we might finally get a conformation of a theory that’s been going around for a while. Back in 2018’s The Hunt for Wolverine: The Adamantium Agenda, Tony Stark revealed that one of the X-Men was not actually a mutant, and had only been genetically altered to appear to be one. Ever since Kate mysteriously broke her nose on that portal, people have been speculating that she’s the individual that Iron Man was referring to.
It’ll be interesting to see how that plays out, because Kate has been treated as a mutant her whole life. She’s fought for a world that hates and fears her as a mutant. Even if it turns out that she’s not a proper member of Homo superior, isn’t she basically a mutant in every way that counts? Doesn’t she still have a place with the X-Men? And if she’s not a mutant, what is she? Is she a Neo? I don’t know enough about the Neo to say for certain, since I don’t have the patience for early 2000’s Chris Claremont, but I feel like Kate just might be a Neo. Regardless, I’m glad to finally see the “Kate can’t walk through gateways” plotpoint finally get addressed, and I’m curious to see how the results intersect with Kate’s sense of identity.
I love that, in retrospect, it feels like there’s been a bit of build to this issue through Marauders. We saw Captain Kate violently incapacitate some anti-mutant thugs early on in that title, so when she kills a squad of Orchis goons on the same Jerusalem rooftop where Magneto proclaimed “You have new gods now” in House of X #1, it doesn’t feel like it’s coming out of nowhere (unlike X-Men: Green). The sequence is beautiful in how brutal it is, from the poetic way that Kate points out that Orchis can no longer hide behind Krakoan laws after destroying Krakoa, to the creative ways that she uses her powers to execute her foes. Artist Stefano Caselli and colorist Marte Gracia (the best colorist in the business) just perfectly capture Kate’s grief and torment as she phases the soldiers into solid matter, leaves grenades in their chests, and even rips out a heart Mortal Kombat-style.
In a bit of non-linear storytelling, the carnage near the end perfectly sets up the intro, where a blood-covered Kate silently enters the abandoned X-Mansion and, with great shame, retrieves a pair of Katanas hidden in the floor. She’s very clearly traumatized not only by what she’s done, but what she’ll continue to do now that mutants are once again an endangered species on Earth. Kate doesn’t feel like a badass- she feels like she lost something in giving into her rage- that she proved the demonic Ogun right in his taunt that she would always be “the weapon he made her”.
I really dig the Shadowkat look, because it’s a clear homage to her very first “Shadowcat” look at the end of Chris Claremont and Al Milgrom’s Kitty Pryde and Wolverine miniseries, where Ogun initially brainwashed her into becoming a “teenage mutant ninja girl”. I’m very glad that they brought in Peach Momoko to design this new ninja-inspired costume, seeing as she’s an actual Japanese person (which can’t be said about certain people at Marvel).
While the issue is mostly about Shadowkat, it isn’t entirely about her. We also catch up with Dr. Stasis and Feilong as they drop more information on the post-Hellfire Gala state of mutantkind: mutants are being deported to Arakko or imprisoned on Earth, and Orchis’ PR team is working overtime to make sure their genocide campaign looks as humane as possible. In short, it’s the kind of stuff ripped from the headlines, but no matter what anyone tells you, X-Men has never been subtle.
The issue also puts a bit of focus on Kamala Khan and Emma Frost outside of their starring roles in Invincible Iron Man and Ms. Marvel: The New Mutant. Emma erases Kamala’s death from the minds of everyone who knows her, and it’s a narrative decision that just… sort of robs her demise of any last bit of narrative relevance. It’s especially weird because the Hellfire Gala revealed that Kamala was a mutant all along, and she didn’t get her X-Gene from her resurrection. That means that Marvel could have just had the X-Men tell Kamala that she was a mutant at any point, and her death now solely happened to sell a “Death of” issue, which feels pretty ghoulish and manipulative on Marvel’s part. Everyone knew that she was going to come back. Kamala is a popular superhero. Of course she wasn’t going to stay dead. But as tasteless as Kamala’s death and resurrection was, there was at least a potential story to explore about her friends and family grappling with her sudden return. Maybe the sudden return of Ms. Marvel and Kamala Khan could completely compromise her secret identity. However, the dramatic fallout of her rebirth just sort of got wiped away in a few panels, so that kind of sucks.
The only other gripe I have is with the way Duggan writes mutants of Arakko. I get that Duggan wants to explore the culture shock of displaced Earth mutants suddenly having to live among a bunch of ancient, battle-hardened warriors, but he kind of depicts the Arakki as brutish bullies. The optics of it are… not great, considering that almost all of the Arakki are either visibly people of color or coded as such. Additionally, Al Ewing has put in a lot of work into crafting Arakki philosophy in the pages in X-Men: Red so that they’re not a bunch of angry meatheads. It just feels counterproductive whenever Duggan lowers the Arakki to the default sci-fi/fantasy warrior race that wants to fight everything that moves.
We also get some brief looks at the events shaping other titles in the “Fall of X” line, including Children of the Vault and Uncanny Avengers. These moments are very short and aren’t required for understanding the other series, but they do provide a nice bit of connective tissue between most of the current X-books. These little inserts are, for the most part, pretty organically worked into the issue, so it never feels like the comic is demanding that you read the other titles.
I only touched on it before, but Caselli and Gracia do a damn good job on the art. Garcia’s vibrant colors really bring out the beautiful glossiness of Caselli’s work, giving it big Stuart Immonen or Pepe Larraz vibes. Some might be quick to dismiss this as your average Marvel “house style”, but personally I’ll always be glad when a talented and capable artist is on a book, especially considering Marvel still hires Greg Land. X-Men #25 has gorgeous characters and full, detailed environments, and I’m not going to take that for granted.
I still have some skepticism for what’s next for the merry mutants now that the Krakoan Age is over, but X-Men #25 has helped put an end to some of my anxieties. This issue has me the most excited I’ve been for the mainline X-Men title since Hickman was on it. This issue is definitely worth checking out, even if the series hasn’t impressed you so far.